Chile awards top indigenous poet

Jaime Huenún receives the National Poetry prize for his work that opened a window into the past and present of one of Chile’s indigenous communities.

Award-winning poet Jaime Huenún with his work, “Reducciones”. Photo by Guillermo Salgado Mora
Award-winning poet Jaime Huenún with his work, “Reducciones”. Photo by Guillermo Salgado Mora

A compilation of poetry, stories and archived documents that all work together to shed light on the history, culture and lives of the indigenous Mapuche people, Jaime Huenún’s “Reducciones” is a unique, and now award-winning, literary endeavor. Just last month Chile’s National Council on Books and Literature as the country’s best poetic work in 2013.

Huenún, who comes from a native Mapuche Williche community in Osorno, southern Chile, explained that he wrote “Reducciones” with the goal of sharing the rich culture and history of this group with the rest of the country and the wider world.

“More than an inspiration, my motivation for this literary project was basically to make visible through poetry a part of the hidden history of Mapuche society, and the Williche Mapuche that we are a part of,” Huenún told The Santiago Times.

Given this aim, the poet said he is grateful for the benefits and wider audience that come with this latest accolade.

“Certainly the award helps a little with visibility and to have a presence in the cultural environment,” Huenún said.

However, the poet emphasized that is was the caliber of the judges that really made him proud to receive the prize.

“The award seems to me to be very valuable especially because it was decided by an impressive jury including two-time literature award winner Oscar Hahn; as well as a poet who also holds international awards, Tomás Harris; a specialist well-known in the world of poetry, Nain Nómez and another important well-known poet Carlos Cociña,” Huenún said. “A jury that is so well known participating adds value to a work that I spent 10 years preparing,” the poet added.

Chile’s Culture Minister, Roberto Ampuero, said that the country is excited to present these awards because they bring attention to the many talented writers and poets from across Chile.

«The importance of this type of competition is that they add value, visibility and promote the literary work that is being done in our country. We seek to highlight quality work, through which we can encourage and value the craft of the writer, in addition to promoting the reading of these works of remarkable quality,” Ampuero said.

This is not the first recognition Huenún has received. The native poet was awarded the Pablo Neruda Prize in 2003 and a Guggenheim fellowship in 2005, among other prestigious accolades.